Trump’s Environmental Spending Cuts Could Cost Republican Districts Billions

By Christopher FlavelleChristopher Flavelle, Blacki MigliozziBlacki Migliozzi and Paul MurphyPaul Murphy
March 21, 2017

President Donald Trump's cuts to environmental programs may face resistance from members of his own party due to an Obama administration practice that spread billions of dollars in contracts to Republican as well as Democratic congressional districts.

A Bloomberg analysis of federal contract data shows that spending related to the environment reached 423 congressional districts in fiscal year 2016 and totaled $5.9 billion. Almost half that spending—47 percent—went to districts represented by Republicans.

If Environmental Spending Falls, Both Parties Suffer

Environment-related federal contracts by congressional district in 2016

That spending distribution could complicate Trump's efforts to cut environmental spending. His budget proposal to Congress recommends deep reductions for agencies focused on climate change and the environment, including the EPA and the Department of Energy. Members of Congress typically resist efforts to cut spending that brings projects and jobs to their district.

“I think this could lead to cross-partisan coalitions to defend the spending,” said David Hart, a senior fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington.

For instance, Hart pointed to the Energy Department's sprawling system of national labs. They are located in red states such as Idaho and Tennessee and employ thousands of people.

In some of those districts, the influx of federal environmental spending is significant. In South Carolina's second district, represented by Republican Representative Joe Wilson, the Department of Energy spent $804 million last year to restore a former nuclear site. In Alaska, represented by Republican Don Young, 11 agencies spent $64 million on contracts that included capping and cleaning up old oil and gas wells. In Indiana's third district, where the congressman is Republican Jim Banks, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spent $57 million last year on an environmental satellite program.

“These are things that we have fought for and protected,” said Matt Shuckerow, a spokesman for Young, said in a phone interview. A spokeswoman for Banks declined to comment.

Federal contract spending isn't just spread across congressional districts. It's also spread across contractors: Last year, 4,462 vendors got contracts categorized by Bloomberg Government as related to the environment, climate, sustainability or similar fields. Twenty-five publicly traded companies earned more than $10 million each from those contracts.

Companies That Stand to Lose the Most

Publicly traded companies with the greatest revenue from federal environmental contracts

At the top of that list is United Technologies Corp., which earned $172 million, mostly for energy-efficiency work for the Department of Energy. Harris Corp. got $156 million, including work on a satellite program for NOAA. Ameresco Inc. earned $124 million from the General Services Administration, the Department of the Interior and six other agencies, much of it for work to cut electricity use at federal buildings.

“These investments reduce energy costs and overhead expenses, address deferred maintenance, and repair aged and inefficient buildings,” Nicole Bulgarino, senior vice president for federal solutions at Ameresco, said by email. Spokesmen for United Technologies and Harris declined to comment.

The contract data also show how widely dispersed such spending is across agencies. The Department of Energy spent the most, $2.7 billion, followed by NASA, at $729 million, and the Department of Commerce, which houses NOAA, at $165 million.

Where the Money Is (It's Not the EPA)

Top 10 federal agencies that spent the most on environment-related contracts in 2016

Distributing federal largess across districts and companies is a tried and true method of building support that will be tested in coming weeks as Congress writes the budget.

“It's been an agency and departmental strategy for years to spread the contracts around so they have maximum political protection,” said Stan Collender, a leading expert on U.S. budget issues.

“I think the defense department clearly led the way on this, but the other agencies have seen the wisdom,” he said. “These are not members of congress who are fighting to cut spending they are fighting to protect their constituents.”